Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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So much to say...

The Star Wars trilogy CD has been redone. The track listing and notes for the new version can be found here.

When I left you, I was but a workprint...

Only a remaster of evil, Darth.

Okay, despite all of my hemming and hawing, an opportunity arose last Thursday for me to purchase the Star Wars trilogy DVDs that came out today, and, true to my inner geek, I did.

...and all I can say is...

W O W ! ! !

They look and sound... phenomenal. My friends and I were drooling over the presentation.

What is here is basically a tweaked version of the '97 Special Editions, and all of the ideological problems that existed with that are still here, but the bulk of changes they made to the '97 presentations are improvements. Some of the music editing has been improved, and the color timing on matte shots is now much, much better (this is especially evident in the Rancor scene in Jedi, which always looked godawful but looks much better now). The outstanding visual and sonic quality, however, make up for most of the problems that I have with these versions of the films... the fact of the matter is that The Empire Strikes Back is still The Empire Strikes Back. The fanfare of the Force theme that accompanies the X-Wing's first dive towards the Death Star has been dialed down somewhat in the mix. This is a very important moment in both the film and the score, and was always one of my favorite parts of the film. Ah, well...

Now, the special features have some really mouth-watering stuff; even the still galleries (in my opinion, usually the dead spot of any DVD). I just want to say that the menu screens on the fourth disc are brilliant. The story behind Star Wars is one of the most interesting in cinema history, with barriers being broken left and right in terms of what could and could not be done on the screen. It was the first film I ever looked at with an eye on “how was that done?” and I had a book about the making of the film that I read to death (my brother now has it, somewhere). Later on, it would be the Industrial Light and Magic book that would interest me in greater detail as to the ins and outs of optical special effects*. I can not stress how important Star Wars is to my understanding of how movies work. This is one of the main subjects in “The Force Is With Them: The Legacy of Star Wars,” which features interviews with such luminaries as James Cameron, Ridley Scott and Peter Jackson. Unfortunately, this documentary suffers from what I consider a cardinal sin, which is that when the people are describing how dazzled they were in 1977 by Star Wars, we often see footage from the '97 edition.

Which brings us to the music...

Just as this trilogy got me and many others enraptured by filmmaking, John Williams' music got myself, and an entire generation of film music enthusiasts involved in film music. By employing the Wagnerian lietmotif approach, Williams was able to create a grand portrait of a story of mythic proportions, a literal “Space Opera.” What is even more interesting, and an element of the scores taken for granted by those who have grown up in the shadow and wake of the social event that was the Star Wars trilogy, is that the Romantic idiom Williams composed the scores in was ground-breaking in its own way, and vital to the film's success.

Science-fiction is a genre that is about the exotic, and as a result, science-fiction films are often given exotic music, from Louis and Bebe Barron's bizarre proto-electronic Forbidden Planet to Jerry Goldsmith's harsh and forbidding Planet of the Apes. George Lucas wasn't making a science-fiction film, however, he was making a romantic fantasy set in a science-fiction environment, and so when it came to the music, he wanted a more traditional approach. As a result, audiences in 1977 who were expecting something strange and eerie instead got an instantly accessible orchestral score, something akin to what Erich Wolfgang Korngold would have written for an Errol Flynn swashbuckler. This immediately put them in the headspace required to accept what was to follow.

Because of this Star Wars renaissance, I turned my attention to compiling a single-disc Star Wars album, one which would encompass those elements I loved the most about the music. I decided early on that I would not include any of Williams' concert arrangements but instead concentrate on the scores themselves (although I could have gotten away with the Imperial March as it does appear, in shortened form, as the Imperial fleet is first shown in The Empire Strikes Back).

Star Wars has a long and varied musical history. The original 2 LP set of the soundtrack from the first film from Fox Fanfare music was and remains the best-selling non-pop album of all time. Running about 74 minutes, it was the typical Williams mishmash of cues. However, the relatively generous amount of music on the album and the copious liner notes by Charles Lippincott made it a great addition to any library. A similar set, slightly less tinkered-with and running almost 80 minutes, came out for The Empire Strikes Back, but by the time Return of the Jedi was being released, the LP format was beginning to flag, and as a result there was only a single 46 minute LP of music from that film released. When PolyGram released them on CD, Star Wars was intact as a 2 CD set, Jedi was the same as it ever was, but Empire was pared down to 45 minutes, a replication of an intended LP re-release as a budget item (although the cassette tape maintained its original running length). This was then rectified with the release of a 4 disc set from Arista, which was lovingly prepared. This is, to date, my favorite presentation of this music. This set was only surpassed in quantity by the release of three 2 CD sets from RCA Victor containing the complete scores for all three films to coincide with the release of the Special Editions, although the “Ewok Celebration” versions on the box set do not appear on the RCA editions in favor of the finale composed in '97 by Williams for the Special Editions.

There were also innumerable alternative recordings of music from this trilogy (each one beyond the scope of this work), such as the superb recordings of Charles Gerhardt conducting the National Philharmonic (superior albums to the ones produced by Williams in my opinion, especially in the case of Empire), a very different interpretation (both sonically and musically) Trilogy recording with the Utah Symphony Orchestra conducted by Varujan Kojian, and Williams' own elephantine "Skywalker Symphony" recording. Most of these centered on the concert arrangements of the themes that Williams wrote for the albums, which is one of the main reasons why I wanted to steer away from that practice.

Because of my familiarity with the music as it appears in all of these incarnations, I didn't have to “audition” tracks or work too hard to get smooth transitions. I had a pretty clear idea as to what I wanted the music to do and how I wanted to get there. From concept to burning, this was one of the fastest and easiest compilations I had ever worked on. I eschewed a chronological approach (which would have precluded a single, coherent CD), and decided instead to proceed according to mood and tone, an easy thing to do with such familiar works. I was also aided by the innate musicality of Williams' approach. I decided to go for the jugular, and concentrate on the most operatic aspects of the trilogy and the results have been, to my ears, quite listenable.

The first two tracks were no-brainers. I took Williams' own re-recording of the classic Alfred Newman Fox fanfare made for The Empire Strikes Back to open the album. Appropriately enough, I then turned to the classic opening from Star Wars, a euphoric prelude presenting Luke's theme and the first appearance of the Rebel fanfare. On the original LP and box set presentations, this was grafted onto part of the end title to form an overture, but here we seque into the ominous “Approaching the Death Star” from Return of the Jedi, which gradually introduces Darth Vader's theme as he boards the Death Star. “Tales of a Jedi Knight” scores Luke's meeting with Ben in Star Wars. Ben's theme, which would later in the trilogy be associated with the Force in general is the primary element here, with an ethereal presentation of Leia's theme as the hologram is played. The first part of this track appeared on the original LP, but the remainder wasn't released until the RCA editions, although I did some editing. It closes with an appearance of the monolithic four-note Death Star motif. “Han Solo and the Princess” is one of the most memorable scenes between the two in Empire (it could also be titled “Goldenrod's Cockblock”). The scene then shifts to the Imperial fleet as Vader moves to make contact with the Emperor. “The Princess Appears” opens with Leia's theme as Luke sees her hologram for the first time in Star Wars, but climaxes with a beautiful version of Ben's theme heard as he watches the suns set. This track was retitled “Binary Sunset” on the RCA releases, but I kept the original title as I think it had more of an appropriate fairy-tale quality to it.

Things kick into a higher gear with “Into the Trap” from Jedi as the Rebel fleet engages the Imperials at Endor. Familiar motifs crop up from time to time, but never for very long as the cue concentrates on building several aggressive musical phrases. In keeping with that intensity, we then pass with an explosion of Darth Vader's theme directly into “The Asteroid Field” from Empire, a colorful cue that centers around a new fanfare for the bravado of Han Solo. “The Return Home and the Hive of Villainy” consists of two tracks that play as a continuous cue in Star Wars, but I recreated the tracking that appears in the film; a mournful trumpet leads into an intense setting of the Force theme as Luke realizes that his aunt and uncle are in danger and goes back to their farm. His shock is interrupted by Vader torturing Leia (this cue was retitled “Burning Homestead” on the RCA release). “The Hive of Villainy” (titled “Mos Eisely” on the RCA edition) is Luke's return to Ben and the journey to a spaceport. A powerful version of the Force theme is heard as Luke decides his destiny and a brass hit represents the town itself. Two excerpts from Empire's “A City in the Clouds” follow, a setting of the Han and Leia love theme as the Millenium Falcon escapes the Imperial fleet in their garbage dump and the sirenlike call for Cloud City itself.

We pause for a moment of intimacy between “Brother and Sister,” the scene in Return of the Jedi where Luke tells Leia the truth about their ancestry. Williams introduces a new theme for the two of them, a delicate work similar to Leia's theme from the first film. This is heard in “Ben’s Death and the TIE Fighter Attack” from Star Wars as Vader cuts down the venerable Jedi Knight. Williams used her theme here because he felt it had the most sweeping sense of any of the themes from that score. The Rebel fanfare then follows as the Falcon escapes the Death Star, but returns along with the Imperial motif (only heard in the first film) as Luke and Han must fight off an attack as they escape. This exciting cue is one of the most swashbuckling moments in the score. We then take a moment of simplicity and wisdom in “Yoda and the Force,” the scene from Empire in which Luke learns how powerful the Force can be as the Jedi Master raises his X-Wing from the swamp. One of my favorite cues from Jedi remained unreleased until the RCA editions, “Revelation and Sullust,” which scores both Luke realizing that Leia is his sister (Leia's theme) and the Rebel fleet preparing for their final confrontation with the Empire (a rousing fanfare).

“Blasting Off” is an intense cue scoring the Falcon's escape from Tatooine. Ben's theme plays over mounting figures as tension builds. The cue crescendos with the Death Star motif. “The Clash of Lightsabers” from Empire opens with Darth Vader's theme emerging from the darkness as the Sith Lord begins using the Force to attack Luke, sending him out the Gantry window. We then follow Leia, Chewbacca, Lando and the 'droids as they make their way through Cloud City to get to the Falcon. This is scored with a jaunty version of Yoda's theme and a brief appearance of the motif associated with Lando's governorship of the City. Tension builds to a fever pitch as they are cornered by Stormtroopers, but the track climaxes with Han and Leia's love theme as Artoo opens the door to the landing platform.

Much of what made the Star Wars scores so accessible was that they were so much fun to listen to, and the next three tracks reflect this element of the scores. The title track from Return of the Jedi is a melange of Luke's theme with the Rebel march and some of the more familiar figures from Star Wars (there is also a brief appearance of Jabba's tuba theme). We then go directly into the brassy, percussive “Attack Position,” one of the busiest cues in Empire heard as Han, forced out of the asteroid field, shrewdly evades capture by attaching himself to the Star Destroyer Executor. Luke's theme and the Imperial motif form the basis for “The Rescue of the Princess” from A New Hope. This track follows the filmic sequence, not that of the LP, and perfectly encapsulates the “Captain Blood” swashbuckling approach that allowed these films to connect with such a large audience.

In preparation for the end of the album, I begin to deal now with more serious dramatic and mythic issues, starting with “The Dark Side Beckons,” which begins with an ominous setting of Darth Vader's theme as Luke is taken before the Emperor, who is represented by a forbidding male choir. In editing this cue, I primarily used elements of “The Emperor Confronts Luke,” but I concluded it with the beginning of Luke and Vader's duel. The way that this cue ends was meant to segue to a busy piece for the Endor space battle, but instead I brought in “Hyperspace” from Empire, which was designed to be married to another cue in the same way (on the RCA release, that other cue, “Losing a Hand” and this one are one long track called “Escape from Bespin”), so the succession is very natural. A quickly repeating four-note figure forms the base of the cue, over which other thematic elements (including a short motif for the 'droids that only appears in Empire) come in and out. This is one of the tracks that appeared on the original LP but not the PolyGram CD. Low rumblings lead to a flowing chorus in “Final Duel,” the scene in Jedi where Luke defeats Vader. This cue was sort of a holy grail for film music collectors until the release of the Arista box set.

“The Last Battle” is the climactic Battle of Yavin from Star Wars. Opening with a busy call to arms as the Rebel ships launch and approach the Death Star (this was a separate track, “Standing By” on the Arista box set, but didn't appear on the original album), the track cuts loose with a bold brass statement of Ben's theme as the attack begins. Additional brass fanfares and the Imperial motif punctuate this track, and it is here that Star Wars becomes most operatic. I mimicked the way that the original LP combined the first and second halves of the battle. Luke's theme becomes more important as the cue continues, building to a rousing finale. “The Light of the Force” is the denouement of Jedi. Evil has been vanquished, and the theme introduced for Luke and Leia is heard as she explains to Han their relationship. Their love theme then blossoms as they kiss (this was called “Leia Breaks the News” on the Arista set, and, strangely enough, “Rebel Briefing” on the LP). We then hear two dramatic readings of the Force theme Luke burns Vader's body (called “Funeral Pyre for a Jedi” on the Arista set); the first of these is an alternate take, while the second was what appeared in the film, which passes into a realm of peace representing the victory of good over evil. I chose to close the album with “The Throne Room and End Title” from Star Wars. I agonized over this decision more than any other on the album. At one point I planned to combine all of the end credits into one track, but I scrapped this for two reasons: 1) it would be inordinately long, and 2) there is too much variation in sound aspect for it to have worked. I decided that I would leave the listener with the Star Wars theme at its most fresh, brash... and fun. Ben's theme is heard in as a triumphant Elgarian march, as it is the noble values he represents that have carried the day. As soon as the end credits begin, we hear Luke's theme and the Rebel fanfare that would become the standard closing to all of the Star Wars films. Luke's theme is heard again and the Princess' theme makes an appearance on 'cello before Luke's theme returns and a blaze of brass that leads to the fine bumpety-bump..

A Symphonic Suite from the Original Motion Picture Soundtracks

Composed and Conducted by


1. Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare (With CinemaScope Extension) 0:21
Composed by Alfred Newman
Main Title and Blockade Runner (A New Hope) 2:07
Approaching the Death Star (Return of the Jedi) 3:44
Tales of a Jedi Knight (A New Hope) 2:10
Han Solo and the Princess (The Empire Strikes Back) 2:16
The Princess Appears (A New Hope) 3:59
Into the Trap (Return of the Jedi) 2:31
The Asteroid Field (The Empire Strikes Back) 3:59
The Return Home and the Hive of Villainy (A New Hope) 4:34
A City in the Clouds (The Empire Strikes Back) 1:28
Brother and Sister (Return of the Jedi) 3:03
Ben’s Death and the TIE Fighter Attack (A New Hope) 3:40
Yoda and the Force (The Empire Strikes Back) 3:45
Revelation and Sullust (Return of the Jedi) 0:41
Blasting Off (A New Hope) 2:02
The Clash of Lightsabers (The Empire Strikes Back) 3:54
The Return of the Jedi (Return of the Jedi) 4:31
Attack Position (The Empire Strikes Back) 1:12
The Rescue of the Princess (A New Hope) 3:02
The Dark Side Beckons (Return of the Jedi) 2:50
Hyperspace (The Empire Strikes Back) 3:53
Final Duel (Return of the Jedi) 2:49
The Last Battle (A New Hope) 8:46
The Light of the Force (Return of the Jedi) 3:16
The Throne Room and End Title (A New Hope) 5:36

Orchestrations by HERBERT W. SPENCER
Recordings Supervised by LIONEL NEWMAN

* * *

Sky Captain
and Your Mother's Ass

All right, I'll admit it. I was really into seeing this film because of it promised to be a work of great visual splendor, and it was. The overall appearance of the film, which was designed to mimic the luminous film stock of the serials from the thirties and forties, and the design aspects, which mimic concepts of technology that would have existed in the year the film was set, are a cornucopia of creativity. The beginning of the film, which is shot and edited in a manner that could very easily have been done in 1939, set up an aesthetic that, unfortunately, the film lacks the ingenuity to fulfill completely.

Don't get me wrong, writer/director Kerry Conran gives it a great shot. However, the episodic nature of the story precludes much in the way of dramatic involvement. In that way, it is very much like a 1939 Flash Gordon serial. Unfortunately, demands have changed somewhat since then, and while the film is full of eye-popping images and Edward Shearmur's earnest score calling the viewer to action, there is little sense of wonder in this film.

Jude Law is great – and I mean fantastic - as a stock heroic character. He seems to have a genuine feel for how to play a role like this, and his classic star features lend themselves to his performance. Gwyneth Paltrow, on the other hand, is a total disaster, never really getting her character or the adventure parts of the film. The sequence at the beginning with her on a street with giant robots about to trample her do not work, not so much because of bad compositing (it is actually impeccable), but because it is really obvious that she's just tossing herself around in a green studio. She plays a newspaper reporter, and I can't help but think that she should have studied Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy to get an idea as to what she was supposed to do.

That said, I think that Sky Captain is definitely worth seeing in the theaters, as I can't imagine how awful it will look in a video transfer. The best way to do it would be to get yourself baked out of your skull, though, so you can get lost in the sumptuous images.

The Incredible
The Amazing
The Astounding
The Impossible

New Phone

My replacement phone arrived from Sprint on Wednesday. It was a Sanyo SCP-5500. This phone comes equipped with a camera and camcorder. This is a pretty fun feature, and I've been enjoying playing with it since I got it. Because you can shoot pictures and record sound, it is more customizable than my previous phones have been (my screen background is Gandalf facing the Balrog, shouting “You cannot pass!”). The software problem I had with my previous phone hasn't reared its ugly head at all.

Mostly, however, I must confess that this phone is more convenient than the previous ones I had because of its diminutive size and the fact that it's a flip-top. This thing is tiny, which is wonderful because it fits into my pocket instead of requiring a belt clip or any such easily lost item. It is a flip-top, so the pocket thing doesn't push buttons. The screen is something new to me, as though the Samsung was a flip-top, it didn't cover the screen, and is pretty damn cool. I must say that I'm really pleased with this one so far. I had already had the other one a week before I started seeing... issues, and this phone is much, much more advanced than that one.

Hot Water

I had bought a new, removable shower head for my shower stall a few months ago, but procrastination and laziness legitimately prevented me from getting around to installing it until recently. I love taking a good, hot shower, and the new shower head is so much nicer than the last one, plus I can move it around. I love a hot, hot shower.

* I just wanted to say that while I have a great amount of respect for how the digital domain has made the line between effect and reality so blurred as so barely to be there (Gollum is a brilliant example), I don't really think that they're as much fun to hear about as the analog stories. What can I say?

Election Note

It has been confirmed that in addition to his already established record in the Vietnam War, John Kerry also served in the Rebellion against the Empire, and was awarded a medal for the efficiency of the escape from Hoth.

Tags: film music, john williams, my mixes, star wars
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